Hundreds of pastel-colored flower petals lined the entrance to Building Bridges Art Exchange near Bergamot Station Monday as local residents sought to commemorate those who have lost their lives to COVID in the ongoing pandemic.

The local COVID Memorial Day event was part of a national day of remembrance that was first started by the organization #MarkedByCovid.

As word spread, residents like Santa Monica’s Carolyn Freyer-Jones came together to arrange corresponding vigils in more than 100 cities around the country.

At the event Monday, Freyer-Jones said she was grateful to see the event come to fruition.

“It’s been really beautiful to see so many people coming here. This morning, my daughter and I were up at 5 a.m. because that’s how much we feel we should be acknowledging the loss. So we feel like this has been a game changer because it’s not just happening here,” Freyer-Jones said, referring to the various Rose River installations that are placed throughout the region. “So, to have the installations here and to have a day where all of these places around the country and people are doing floral wreaths — it’s just been amazing and you can’t help but feel good.”

Freyer-Jones explained how she has been holding a space on social media on Fridays but there hasn’t been any time to get outside with others and feel a sense of community.

She said, “My brother was weeping and he was like, ‘We can’t wait for a national day of mourning, because I don’t know when that’s gonna happen.’ His pain really made me say we have to do something and we just started to talk… and here we are at a national day of remembrance with thousands of others alongside us in spirit in other cities.”

As she admired the thousands of felt roses that were sent in and strung on a net for the exhibition, Freyer-Jones said she was thankful for newfound friends like Jill Alexander and the many others who she’s met and now feels deeply connected to.

“I feel like immediately now, when I meet people who have lost someone to COVID, it’s like we have this shared experience. Even though I have not met these people until today, I already felt so connected to them. And that’s why I think having events like these is really meaningful,” she added.

Alexander, who also lost her father Paul Foley last April, agreed with the sentiment in an interview Monday.

“I’ve been personally impacted by COVID and I loved the idea of the community coming together to recognize what we’ve lost and the tragedy of it all,” Alexander said as she detailed the distinct pain that she’s felt since losing a loved one in the pandemic.

“You don’t get it until you personally have gone through it because it’s a very unique experience. We all lose somebody in our life but this is just tragedy upon tragedy; I had to say goodbye to my dad on FaceTime and I haven’t seen my family since then, and we haven’t had a funeral, so nobody has gone through the proper mourning and grieving,” Alexander said. “And that’s why these (days of remembrance) are so important. They help you to not feel alone and to feel that — not only did your loved one matter but that people recognize how much you’ve gone through since then with your own grief, and then having to deal with that and the craziness of a pandemic on top of a full-time job and kids doing distance-learning.”

It may sound weird, Alexander said, but she feels better at memorials like the one hosted Monday.

“Because you feel part of the community and you’re getting that necessary healing that’s being taken from so many right now who are not able to go home and hug their family,” she said. “So to have this day, I think it’s so important because it’s like President Biden said, ‘In order to heal and grieve, we have to remember.’ And for me, it’s not only important to heal, it’s important to remember so that it never happens again because that’s what’s so hard for so many of us; the fact that my dad’s death was preventable and that my dad and others’ should still be here. But because he’s not, we can at least honor the lives lost, and then give big recognition to the day so it doesn’t happen again.”

Brennon@smdp.com